By Bob Roberts Katende
Last week President Yoweri Museveni delivered the state of the nation address to the country. In his address, he provided impressive figures on how the country had improved in various sectors of the economy. The president reminded the country of how the economy has stayed insulated from the world economic shock and actually still growing at a robust rate of 7.0 percent.
The mixed reactions that followed notwithstanding, many people are questioning not the rhetoric with which he delivers his speeches but the extent to which he goes in implementing what he says.
Though the President was upbeat on most of the issues he talked about as most pressing to Ugandans, a survey done by the Afrobarometer, an independent, non-partisan research instrument that surveys 20 African countries, which recently released their fourth survey on Uganda, found major discontent on a broad range of issues, like democracy which the president hardly talked about.
According to the survey, priorities differed with regions. But 43 percent of the respondents listed poverty as the most pressing issue. Although the President was happy about general performance of the economy, the study found out that 47 percent feel that the country’s economic conditions today are ‘worse’ or’much worse’ than they were one year ago.
In the President’s speech, on the agricultural sector which employs the biggest percentage of Ugandans, he said it had only ‘shown signs of activation.’ Erute South Member of Parliament, Odit John, who is an agricultural economist, says the President’s speech especially about agriculture had nothing new. ‘Families haven’t received any money from the cooperative societies. The prosperity for all message that has metamorphosed from Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA) in 2001 and to Naads programme, is just a political message and has so far delivered no tangible results on the ground.’He adds that, ‘the six demonstration homes identified in every parish have received virtually nothing.’
The President also noted how cotton ginning had registered a remarkable recovery with an annual increase of 245 percent. But MP Odit disagrees with the President saying, there was a reduction from 250,000 bales to 65,000 bales last year.
Although the President said he will stop at nothing in implementing his programmes in the energy sector to spur industrialisation, the industrial sector only contributes 24.7 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) while the agriculture sector contributes 30.2 percent to the economy with rest coming from the services sector like tourism.
The real issues that many Ugandans feel should be addressed by the government according to the Afrobarometer include poverty, unemployment, and closely behind them is health. On health, the President seemed happy about the progress in that sector especially about the construction of Health centre III and IVs. With respect to national referral hospitals, funds are now being disbursed directly to those hospitals to draw their priorities with guidance from the ministry of health.
However, the situation on the ground is far from what the President painted in those hospitals. For example, facilities at Mulago National Referral Hospital have not improved either. The hospital accommodates over 3000 beds though it was built to accommodate 1500 beds. An entry-level doctor earns about Shs 560,000 a month. Health practitioners say this partly explains why there is increased flight of doctors from Uganda to neighbouring countries where there is better pay. The little medicine available expires in stores. For example, between 2005 and 2007 drugs worth $2.4 million (Shs 4.8 billion) were simply thrown out as they had passed their expiry date.
According to the Afrobarometer study, 49 percent of respondents in northern Uganda listed food shortage/famine as the most important problem, followed by poverty/destitution with 45 percent. The Peace Recovery Development Plan (PRDP) meant to help the affected families remains a mystery as many people are still questioning what it is all about, as Bishop John Baptist Odama acknowledged in an interview with The Independent. Is it going on (PRDP) or stopping, is it suspended, what is it about?
It is fine the president mentioned the 100 billion set aside for the program, but we can only count on this if it has made its way in the ministry in charge. Money hasn’t been the only problem about the recovery programs in northern Uganda but failure to implement the said programs effectively without a big chunk of it ending up in the pockets of officials.
The President reiterated his earlier claim to fight corruption. On New Year’s Eve, he said: “”I am directing that emphasis on value-for-money must be strengthened, to ensure that available resources are spent well and high return public investments are given high priority. This time in parliament he said: “the position of the movement government as stated in NRM manifesto of 2006 is zero tolerance to corruption. That remains our position.” Despite the presence of measures to fight corruption like the enactment of anti corruption laws, many people remain skeptical about the government’s will to finally root it out. The office of the IGG which has somehow managed point a finger at corrupt officials remains in a mess but the president chose not to mention anything about it..
The national coordinator for Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda, Jasper Tumuhimbise, says the President’s speech about fighting corruption was hollow. “We need something beyond rhetoric. Institutions like the court have to be facilitated by political will.”
Generally, many people in the know say the President’s speech offered little or nothing new as many of the issues he raised have been heard more than once. Indeed according to them, this state of the nation address will be the same as next year’s.